By Andrew Cohen
A remarkably diverse and accomplished group of 125 lawyers joined Berkeley Law’s Professional Track LL.M. Program last week. Designed for lawyers educated outside the United States seeking a top Master of Laws degree over two consecutive summers—rather than an academic year—the program’s new class spans 47 countries.
“I’m astonished by their backgrounds, talents, and experiences,” said Professor and Associate Dean Charles Weisselberg. “They have worked as lawyers for an influential array of clients and shown an incredible entrepreneurial spirit forming startups, nonprofits, professional development groups, and law firms. They have also demonstrated a commitment to reforming the laws of their home countries, especially in Liberia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Ukraine.”
Professional track courses are taught by renowned Berkeley Law faculty who are leaders in their fields—with a rigorous curriculum that includes business law, intellectual property (IP), and core U.S. law courses. The program also offers certificates of specialization in Business Law, IP Law, and Public Law & Regulation. Launched in 2008, the program’s accessible and comprehensive offerings have become increasingly popular; this year’s incoming class is more than three times larger than it was in 2010.
“It was my dream to pursue an LL.M. at a top-ranking school, and Berkeley appealed to me because of the high educational standard combined with the beautiful Bay Area and its focus on international diversity,” said new student Lamisse Bajunaid of Saudi Arabia. “The options of specialization also greatly appealed to me, specifically the IP track.”
In addition to its abundant legal acumen, her class includes former actors, musicians, photographers, and dancers. It also features the first woman admitted to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society qualified to provide legal services in Arabic, the author of five books, the founder of a nonprofit in Pakistan that provides legal aid to victims of domestic violence and rape, and a member of the 2014 bronze-medal winning Swiss women’s Olympic hockey team.
Bajunaid has worked as a legal advisor at AlSindi Law Firm in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia since May 2013, focusing on corporate, commercial, foreign investment, and labor law matters. Earlier this year, she also became a part-time lecturer at her former law school.
The option of gaining an LL.M. degree over two summers instead of an academic year “meant that I did not need to quit my job to pursue my studies” and allowed her to “focus on developing my career and education simultaneously. I’m really enjoying my time here and am so grateful that I was able to come. The professors are inspirational and the classes are both informative and enjoyable. It has been truly amazing to attend classes with this diverse group,” she said.
Back for round two
The professional track program also welcomed back 116 students, here for their second and final summer, who will earn LL.M. degrees in late July. That group includes Marco Portillo, president of Berkeley Law’s Student Organization for Advanced Legal Studies.
While campaigning for that position, Portillo “discovered the amazing variety of talented lawyers from all over the world that Berkeley Law’s Professional LL.M. Program brings together.” He thinks the program has become so popular “because it goes beyond a typical LL.M. program; it is a life-changing experience.”
Portillo works for Ritch, Mueller, Heather y Nicolau, a top law firm based in Mexico City. His practice centers on energy and environmental law, in particular regulatory and permitting issues for transactions in the electricity sector.
Portillo, who will earn the program’s new Public Law & Regulation Certificate, learned about the professional track program at an event hosted by his firm. He saw a chance “to learn from internationally recognized professors at one of the best schools in the world. I imagined the fabulous networking opportunities, classmates from every corner of the globe, and of course the marvelous exchange of opinions and ideas regarding law.”
Experienced in the financing, construction, negotiation, and related aspects of renewable energy projects, Portillo has also engaged in extensive pro bono human rights work to help improve the conditions of jails in Mexico. He said Berkeley Law’s instruction has delivered in both areas: Saira Mohamed’s International Human Rights course and Steven Weissman’s Energy Law course.
“Professor Mohamed managed to cover an extensive amount of topics, always through a method of participation and debate, that allowed the class to analyze controversial subjects through multicultural points of view,” Portillo noted. “Professor Weissman has the striking ability to explain extremely complicated and technical problems in an absolutely clear manner through a comparative perspective that enriches the understanding of energy law worldwide. They’re both really enthusiastic about our program and always eager to incorporate students’ ideas.”